LiDAR: Surveying and mapping the historic environment

Due to their very nature, the heritage resource and value of many wooded environments is poorly known, with few having been systematically surveyed. Many woodlands have dense vegetation cover, making either the direct visual recording or the remote sensing of heritage features subject to difficulties. Thus, the total heritage resource and value located within British woodlands is not known. To help address this, the Forestry Commission is involved with the following historic environment research projects:

  • How to identify heritage sites and features on the ground in woodland. Training for foresters and raising awareness
  • How to survey, accurately map and record sites and features
  • Extensive heritage surveys in districts such as the Forest of Dean and Northants
  • The collation of Forestry Commission-wide heritage data and the development of GIS applications in the management of the historic landscape
  • Identifying the potential applications and practical development of remote sensing for historic environment features under woodland.

Some examples of Forestry Commission-wide heritage projects are outlined below.

Archaeological survey using LiDAR

Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) is a remote sensing technique that is commonly used to detect and plot archaeological evidence in open landscape such as agricultural landscapes or floodplains. LiDAR uses and airborne laser to scan the ground below and produce a highly detailed image of the ground surface, recording changes in topography to within a few centimetres. However, as it is possible for this laser to penetrate some woodland canopies, Forestry Commission funded a survey to test the ability to remotely detect archaeological features below a forest.

The Clowes Wood Archaeological Project 2002-2004: A guide for community groups and woodland owners

This manual (below) describes the methodology used during the Clowes Wood (Kent) Archaeology Project. The interest of an existing group in woodland archaeology and the Forestry Commission’s need for accurate information to inform plans for conservation and enhancement of natural and cultural heritage came together and produced a two volume report. This is now being consulted when forestry operations are planned and is the basis for interpreting the way the woodland has developed to the wider public.

Exploring your woodlands history (PDF-2559K)

Forest of Dean Archaeological survey

The Dean Forest District and Forest Research are partners in the "Forest of Dean Archaeological Survey" working with English Heritage, the Countryside Agency and Gloucestershire County Council to identify and map important archaeological features. While the area is known to have a rich history, comparatively few detailed surveys have been undertaken. A systematic survey of the area using a variety of source information is in progress.

Welsh Heritage Assets Project

Between 1996 and 2000 the Welsh Heritage Assets Project (Lottery funded) undertook a range of archaeological work on Forest Enterprise land. Over 7,000 sites were recorded and placed in a customised GIS known as Dolmen. The project has led to the development of a number of other heritage projects in which FE have been active members including a major research study at Y Graig, Monmouthshire. 

The North Wessex Downs Woodland Archaeology Project

The AONB has set up a woodland archaeology project across West Berkshire, north Hampshire, east Wiltshire and south Oxfordshire to discover the hidden history of this protected landscape. The project aims to survey and audit as many of the semi-natural and ancient woodlands in the North Wessex Downs AONB as possible to identify archaeological features. This will improve people’s understanding of the landscape and local history. Reports from the surveys may support applications for woodland grants.

See: www.northwessexdowns.org.uk